Strawberry season is finally here, but the journey to this point hasn’t been easy.
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The drought has’t just taken hold of our dairy and cattle farmers, it’s also gripped fruit farmers in the Shoalhaven.
Kirsty Camilleri owns a strawberry farm at Jaspers Brush, and this year, picking has been especially tough due to the prolonged dry conditions.
Picking usually begins around September, but Ms Camilleri said she had a noticeably late start this year.
“It’s been pretty hard, it’s taken a lot longer to get the produce,” she said.
“I know I’ve waited a lot longer than anyone else to start this year so that was adding a lot of stress.”
Each day, Ms Camilleri arrives at the strawberry patch at 5.30am, where she alone picks in excess of 200 kilos of fruit, all before 9am. While that sounds like a lot, it’s not be comparison.
“I’m not picking as much as I should be at this time of year so I’m hoping now that we’ve had some rain, things might start up a bit,” she said.
The drought has not only brought high water bills to Ms Camilleri’s strawberry farm, it’s also brought flocks of hungry birds.
“I have to water the strawberries everyday for a couple of hours at a time and that brings a lot of birds that are also after water,” she said.
“The birds were just demolishing them [the strawberries] overnight and there’d be nothing for me to pick in the morning.”
As soon as strawberry season begins, Ms Camilleri puts signs on the highway directing people to where they can buy the fruit. However, due to setbacks, her signs have only just been put out this week.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to have enough to sell from the farm because it’s been so dry,” she said.
“It’s pretty hard when you’re expecting to pick and you’re not picking anything.”
While it’s been a tough start, Ms Camilleri said the community had been supportive, especially after the national needle saga.
“People have been saying the prefer to buy from the farm than the supermarkets and that means a lot,” she said.
Strawberry season usually lasts for about 16 weeks, and though this season will be shorter, Ms Camilleri still has a smile on her face.
“I’ve been doing this for four years now and I’m in the strawberries all day everyday,” she said.
”We just have to hope for some more rain now because things are starting to dry out again now.”
Ms Camilleri’s freshly picked strawberries are available for purchase at Devitts lane, Merroo Meadow.
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